Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Within Our Reach

Have you ever found yourself frustrated when you try to get something done but are held back by circumstances out of your control? 

And what if the same person who tasked you with this request is the one holding you back? What then? 

That was Moses’s dilemma. 

G-d gave a command that could only apply in the Land of Israel. Yet G-d told Moses that he would not enter Israel. How in the world was Moses to fulfil it? This was very frustrating to him!  

From Moses’s actions we can learn a life lesson.

First, however, let’s learn a little Talmudic jargon. Was the command given to Moses a command for him, the person, or a command that the action be done, irrelevant of the person doing it?

The command regards the Cities of Refuge, sanctuaries for people who killed inadvertently. Was the command that cities be set up, or that Moses himself set them up? 

Moses said, “Even if I cannot do so myself because I cannot enter the Land of Israel, it is not an excuse for me to not participate in some form or another, even if it is just as a preparation for Jews of the next generation. I want to do my part.” Moses designated the location of the City of Refuge – even though such a sanctuary did not exist yet – by figuratively sticking a stake in the ground.

The lesson for us is clear. It is easy to make excuses in life saying, “I cannot do this or that for reasons that are beyond my control.” But Moses teaches us that we can lay down the rules; we can put a stake in the ground. We must let our will be known and do something, even if we cannot accomplish our goal until a later date. Do something now, even if it is just a small step.

Shabbat Shalom! 


Applied Knowledge

Often, I am asked about the different style of the book of Devarim, Deuteronomy, from the other five books of the Torah. All the other books are written in third person, “And G-d spoke to Moses saying,” etc., while the fifth book is in the first person, where Moses speaks to the Jews directly.

Why is it that this book is written differently than the rest? Especially when this style can confuse people into thinking that Moses is writing it on his own! Well, maybe Moses is. After all, doesn’t the Talmud itself say, “Moses wrote it on his own?” This can be very confusing. If the fifth book is so different, then shouldn’t it be part of the Prophets and not part of the Torah, which is considered to be have been written “by G-d?” How do we reconcile these two ideas, that it is the word of G-d yet it is Moses’s?

There are two ways a student learns and then teaches others. As they first learn and consume the information they are just a conduit, taking it all in, and passing it on to the next person. Of course they have an understanding, but they have not internalized that information; it did not become one with them. They didn’t take ownership of it. Over time, however, they can come to a deeper appreciation of the material they have learned. They start to take ownership of it. They have internalized the information. At this point, they are not sharing it in “third person” any longer; it is theirs. Of course, they will always recognize their teacher and will always give credit to that individual; nevertheless, it becomes theirs. 

I am sure you can relate when you catch yourself thinking, “Oh my! I sound like my mother!” The words that you said are your own. However, the message that your mother taught you was incorporated into your being to such an extent that you started thinking and talking exactly like her.

This is the meaning of “G-d spoke through Moses’s mouth.” Moses became so devoted to G-d that when he spoke in first person, it was not because he spoke on his own as in a selfish way, but because he became so selfless that his whole being was about teaching what G-d had taught him.

That is why the fifth book of the Torah is exactly that: a fifth book, part and parcel of G-d’s five books of the Torah. 



A Murderers Refuge

Whatever your thoughts are on the death penalty, remember that they only apply to one who intentionally killed another. What should the punishment be for one who killed another inadvertently? Purely by accident; no reckless action involved. For example, just the other week, a man was using his lawn mower. He ran over a tool in his yard, the tool went flying and hit his young daughter. In this case, he did not kill her, but she did get a huge cut across her face and needed many stiches. But if she had died – G-d forbid – what should his punishment be? To make it more understandable, let’s say it was a neighbor’s kid. Who would you judge?


The Torah, In this week’s portion, gives us the law: Set up cities of refuge where such a person can flee so that they are protected from any family member of the victim who may want to seek revenge! They are to remain in these cities until the High Priest dies.




We learn from this the following:

A – Family members can seek revenge only if the person is outside of the city of refuge, and only during the lifetime of the current High Priest.

B – The person is guilty of the crime – even though it was an accident, so long as the High Priest is alive. After his death, the person is forgiven.

C – For some unexplained reason, the High Priest is connected to this person, although he had nothing to do with his action.




The holiest of society, the High Priest, and the lowest, a killer – even if the crime were inadvertent – are nevertheless intertwined. There is no running away. We have to care for each other. Our lives are intertwined. The love that we need to show to another human being who is going through the process of self-improvement has to be non-judgmental. Help lift the person up every day of their life. Once the High Priest completes his task, and passes away, the person’s process of repentance is complete and now he is a free man and no one can seek revenge against him anymore.




A Lesson From A Bizarre Story

In this week's Torah portion there is a verse of just a few words that not only needs some explanation, it also needs some clarity on why it is located where it is in the Torah. Seemingly, it is out of place. The words read, "Korach's sons did not die."   

If you recall the story of Korach's rebellion, you will remember that a great miracle occurred and the "earth opened up its mouth and swallowed up Korach and all his men." This statement included his sons, his co-conspirators Datan and Aviram, and two hundred and fifty men. Yet, less than forty years later, when the survivors of the years in the desert were counted from the tribe of Reuven, the families of Datan and Aviran were mentioned, in that they were the ones who died in Korach's rebellion. But wait a minute—we take a break before going on the next tribe of Shimon and we read, "Korach's sons did not die."  

Here we have a double question. What does this mean, that they did not die? And, why is this mentioned right here?  

It is too simple an answer to just say that it "flows" with the story to mention it here. There must be more to the story.  

It is true that Korach's sons and Datan and Aviram were with him originally in his plot to overthrow Moses. And while they regretted their actions in their hearts, in actuality, they did nothing about it.  

They were punished by being swallowed up by the earth. But for thirty-nine years they were kept alive miraculously underground! Once the generation passed away and a new generation arose, G-d rewarded them for the regret that they had in their hearts and miraculously brought them back to the surface. Alive.

Not only that, there are many Psalms written by them that are recorded in the Book of Psalms. The famous, great prophet Samuel is their descendant! This is all due to the merit of the repentance that they made – in their hearts! Can you imagine if the repentance would have been out in the open for all to see?  

The lesson that we can all take from this story is about the power of regret and the power of forgiveness. Korach's sons regretted their actions. Although they didn’t fully express themselves publicly, G-d, nevertheless, viewed it as such, and He totally forgave them (yes, they had to wait it out, but eventually the time came for them to get their reward). We, too, can learn from this—to regret our mistakes and to forgive others for theirs.  





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